The Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville last month was the largest, most violent assembly of white supremacists in decades, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and now Identity Evropa, one of the most influential white supremacist groups operating in the U.S., has launched a yearlong campaign targeting college students with a sophisticated breed of racist fliers.
In the first weeks of the 2017-18 school year, Identity Evropa has posted fliers on 13 campuses in seven states, according to new data from the ADL. And starting on September 3, the group hit at least one campus every day for six days in a row, including Lynchburg and Liberty colleges, both in Virginia, Eastern Michigan University (twice), the University of California Irvine, and Bristol Community College in Massachusetts. The hate fliers also appeared at the University of Virginia, where just weeks before, tiki torch-toting, Nazi slur-slinging white nationalists clashed with counterprotesters over the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. A day of violence broke out, ending in one death and injuries to at least 19 people.
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"Charlottesville emboldened and energized white supremacists," says Marilyn Mayo, senior research fellow at the ADL's Center on Extremism. "Even though they didn't get to speak, they see it as a success on some level because they could bring together so many strains of the white supremacist movement. You had a lot of young people who went, and they're going to double-down on their efforts to grow by reaching out to campuses."
Since September 2016, the ADL has identified 192 incidents of white supremacist campus fliering on 131 college campuses, in 37 states. The inauguration of Donald Trump, a man elected president on a platform of hatred, bigotry and anti-immigrant sentiments, marked a significant shift in this effort. From January to April 2016, there were nine incidents of white supremacist propaganda on U.S. campuses, but during that same four-month period in 2017, the ADL catalogued 115 incidents.
In January, American Renaissance, Jared Taylor's white nationalist organization, launched a campaign involving racist posters that co-opted some of the most iconic images of the 20th century, including Rosie the Riveter (instead of "We can do it!" the poster read "Don't apologize for being white!") During the 2016-17 school year, the white supremacist group Vanguard America hung hate fliers at least 32 times at college campuses, while IE posted racist propaganda 65 times in 19 states as part of its #ProjectSiege campaign, according to the ADL.
After a brief lull this summer, Identity Evropa is ramping up its recruiting arm with terrifying speed-and a sudden shift in strategy. Historically, the group's fliers had images of Greek and Roman statues alongside vague phrases like, "Our future belongs to us" and "Let's become great again." But a few weeks ago, Identity Evropa unveiled a new recruiting strategy: posters with photos of founder Nathan Damigo and Evan Thomas, another Identity Evropa member-both of whom could pass for frat bros-talking into bullhorns above new slogans, including, "Our generation, our future, our last chance," and "Action. Leadership. Identity."
"They're no longer hiding behind images of statues," Mayo says, "but showing people who are out there, in the streets, taking action."
Another batch of Identity Evropa posters promotes books published by Arktos Media, a leading far-right publisher founded by Swedish businessman Daniel Friberg (he launched AltRight.com with Richard Spencer). It's an academic approach that gives white supremacy not just an intellectual foundation, but a veneer of mainstream culture. As Mayo puts it: "Identity Evropa is trying to go further than just talking about preserving white identity, and wants students to read the works that fuel their ideology, giving them the ideological basis for their thinking."
"[Identity Evropa's] actions are extremely disruptive and unsettling to students," Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO, said in a statement. "The message is explicitly racist and anti-Semitic. They know they're going to get a reaction when they show up on campus."
Identity Evropa was founded in March 2016 by Damigo, who received an "Other Than Honorable" discharge from the U.S. Marine Corps in 2007, then served five years in prison for robbing a man he believed was an Iraqi. It was in prison that Damigo read Klu Klux Klan leader David Duke's book, My Awakening, according to the ADL, and had his own awakening to the white supremacist movement.
In April, a video went viral of the former Marine cold-cocking a woman in the face as she protested Trump at a rally in Berkeley, California. Last month, Damigo was briefly arrested for misdemeanor failure to obey police at the Charlottesville demonstration. On August 27, he announced his resignation, naming Eli Mosley, an Army veteran, as his successor. Previously, Mosley was Identity Evropa's director of events, and he was a key architect of the violent Charlotteville rally. He's claimed that, within two years, the white supremacist movement could draw 10,000 people to a march in Washington.
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The surge of Identity Evropa fliers at the start of the 2017-18 school year comes just weeks after Mosley took his post as head of the organization. But can posters that strive to humanize white supremacy actually sway students on college and university campuses?
"They've been able to attract young people-who've never been part of the movement before!" says Mayo, who believes Identity Evropa's success on campus will be limited. "It's of concern, because for a movement to grow, you have to have young people willing to take the message out there into the world. They are taking advantage of all the publicity and efforts coming out of Charlottesville and using that to move ahead."